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Extended police bail should be subject to judicial oversight

It is not necessary for Crown Court to take responsibility for bail decisions in certain cases

6 February 2015

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The Law Society has welcomed proposals to introduce legislation to regulate the use of pre-charge extended bail.

Pre-charge bail was introduced in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and gives the police power to place an arrested person under bail while they continue to gather further evidence.

The fact that there is no time limit means suspects can be kept on bail for years. The law was strengthened to allow pre-charge bail to include conditions in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Last year former ministers, MPs and lawyers began campaigning for reform of the controversial measures, limiting the period on bail to 28 days, after which a judge must review the situation.

Just before Christmas the home secretary, Theresa May, announced a proposal to limit the amount of time an individual can be on pre-charge police bail, stating it "cannot be right that people can spend months or even years on pre-charge bail with no oversight".

The proposals are now subject to consultation which ends on 8 February 2015.

Commenting today, Law Society president Andrew Caplen said: "Our members are all too aware of the very real hardship and stress caused to clients who are kept on police bail for extended periods under suspicion of having committed an offence.

"The decision to extend bail beyond 28 days should be subject to judicial oversight - not the authority of a senior police officer."

The former chair of the society's criminal law committee, Richard Atkinson, added: "As a criminal defence lawyer, my colleagues and I see first-hand the distress unnecessary extended police bail causes. Releasing a person on pre-trial police bail leaves them in a legal limbo. They have not been charged with any offence, but are often stigmatised by the unresolved allegation hanging over them and may be subjected to conditions which restrict what they otherwise would be lawfully entitled to do."

He continued: "Delays in completing investigations - and the subsequent delay in deciding whether or not to charge - significantly slows down the criminal justice process adding to the inevitable stress of any criminal investigation on suspects, alleged victims and witnesses as well as potentially impacting of the quality of evidence as memories and ability to recall events fade over time."

The Law Society's response to the consultation states that it is not in the interests of justice to have a maximum period of pre-charge bail.

The society also does not believe it necessary the Crown Court should take responsibility for bail decisions in certain cases, suggesting it would be simpler and cheaper for applications to be at magistrates' court level.

John van der Luit-Drummond is legal reporter for Solicitors Journal

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